Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic, popularly known as KotOR, was the first computer role playing game (RPG) set in the Star Wars universe. It was originally released on the Microsoft Xbox in July of 2003 in North America, eventually coming to Windows computers in November of that same year and Mac OS X in 2004.
Bioware, headed up by Greg Zeschuk and Ray Muzyka at the time, revealed the upcoming title at the Entertainment and Electronics Expo (E3) in 2001 to some great fanfare. Working under license from LucasArts, Bioware chose to set the game 4,000 years before Star Wars: Episode I in the official Star Wars timeline, thus avoiding any movie tie-in pressure and allowing the developers some freedom to create new content in a familiar universe. While the team of over 40 had to send concept artwork to LucasArts, there was only minimal direction from “the ranch.”
While previous BioWare games ran long (Baldur’s Gate was 100 hours of gameplay, though it could take over 300 hours for the non-expert to complete it fully), the KotOR team wanted to keep gameplay short enough to justify all the extra world and environment building. “Our goal for gameplay time is 60 hours,” said Mike Gallo of LucasArts in an interview with GameSpot in 2002. “We have so many areas that we're building--worlds, spaceships, things like that to explore--so we have a ton of gameplay.”
BioWare had experience developing for PC, so the development team settled on Xbox as the obvious initial target for development. One of the challenges, though, was deciding how much detail to give the visuals versus the AI, scripting, and character models. With an console, the storage space is limited to how much can fit on a game disk, and the graphical performance is determined by the console maker, not the hot-rodding PC modder. In fact, the PC version of the game has higher resolution for both display and textures, an extra location to visit, and more non-player characters (NPCs), items, and weapons.
LucasArts worked on the KotOR audio, using its vast resources and movie-library of sound effects to make the game sound like a true Star Wars experience. The game also contained 300 unique characters with 15,000 lines of dialogue, leading to a script that filled ten 5-inch binders. Around 100 voice actors filled all the roles, including some big names like Ed Asner and Jennifer Hale. The music for KotOR was an original score by composer Jeremy Soule, who used similar themes as the motion picture soundtrack while creating something new, all on an 8 megabit per second MIDI system.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic launched to strong critical and player acclaim, winning several awards, including game of the year from Game Developers’ Choice, best Xbox game of the year from BAFTA, and an Interactive Achievement Award for best console and computer RPG. The game also received many Game of the Year awards from places like IGN, Xbox Magazine, PC Gamer, and G4, and has an average Metacritic score of 93/100. KotOR has been named one of the 100 greatest video games of all time by Time, and it came in at 54 on Game Informer’s 2010 Top 200 Games of All Time list.